CHX Collective – Keep Me In Orbit Today – Album Review
If you’re following our pages on the regular, or at least have been since about early 2016, you’re familiar with the main dude from CHX Collective, a one Mr. Rob Sulzmann, who’s been partially-or-more responsible for acts you’ve seen here in review like the band She Likes Todd or his solo project Down Solo. So like…yeah I dunno what that’s all about really…new year, new band/project name? You can tell Rob is likely the hyperactive sort, I’m assuming this based on the fast-paced & wildly colorful melodies you’ll hear in any of these past projects – or even in his current one as CHX Collective…but like, take a breath Rob…you’re changing band names faster than most punks change underwear, c’mon bro.
Anyhow…CHX Collective it is, so be it. Whatever name he wants to put his stuff under is honestly fine with me as long as I’ve got some sort of idea on where to find whatever he’s doing next – I’m just stoked to have the dude back making music where he damn well belongs.
And as if riding in on the wind, the new journey begins. Big muted drums & an atmospheric melody drift in to intro the record before CHX Collective hits the switch around thirty-five seconds in and the game is officially on, diving deep into that high-energy Punk/Pop combo that Rob is a true master of. No joke, the guy has an incredible grip on the sound he’s looking to create and executes with extreme confidence and a no-holds-barred approach to the way he plays & performs. “My Way Home” is impressive enough through the verse alone & serves this record really well to get everything flowing in the right direction quickly – but extra props to this CHORUS dude! All the punch & payoff of where this journey has been heading from moment one finds that level-up the effort deserved. I’ve been caught up in Rob’s music from the past & definitely found many cuts I’ve remained addicted to throughout the years to follow – and I can already tell this is likely gonna be a new one of those reliable cuts I can always go to for that amped-up energy I’m so often craving. Expression is key here…this is where Rob seriously excels, pouring the melody into the microphone powerfully, making that audible connection that matters to us as listeners – on “My Way Home,” CHX Collective immediately proves to be a force to be reckoned with. More than a fantastic start, “My Way Home” is the kind of song that will instantly have you wondering whether or not it’ll be possible to top it as the album plays on – massively strong opening tune.
“Ending Up Here” is a great hybrid tune with a ton of charm & personality. While I’m probably not always the guy for “whoa-oh-ohs” & whatnot, I’ll fully admit that when they work, they really work – and CHX Collective has got those right on-point in this second cut from Keep Me In Orbit Today. The verse of this song is pure Rob & the Punk-inspired energy that you know & love – but the rest of what’s happening in this tune has him audibly branching out in colorful, vibrant, & unique ideas…say like, more comparable to something like the wildness & fun of a band like Morning Teleportation. What I can tell ya for sure, any comparisons aside, is that this is an energy & spirited sound that’s completely catching on with the people out there right now, not just me. Look at it like, party-music of the modern-era for the Punk crowd in a way…”Ending Up Here” is the kind of cut that never quits and keeps that uplifting vibe turned up to eleven all the way through. Really smart keyboards added into this song as well that perfectly bring the sweetness of this tune to the surface…the breakdown is genius, I love the muting in the mix there, love that final resurgence only seconds-long right before the very end too – all clever stuff. If I was CHX Collective, there’s a good chance I’d be taking a long look at this cut as a single.
I mean, fuck…this guy is literally SO GOOD it freakin’ blows my mind sometimes. Just about every fibre of my being WANTS to resist the ska-influenced vibes of “I Won’t Mind My Own Mind’s Mind” – and well, shit, that proved IMPOSSIBLE – so I wish you the best of luck if you try to do the same. There is, ultimately, no resisting this tune…absolutely 100% futile to even try – this cut is like lightning in a bottle. As I’ve said so many times, doesn’t matter the genre, sound, or style – you make music RIGHT & give it everything you got & the whole thang lines up like it was meant to be in that one magic moment, you put yourself in a solid position to be heard by everyone out there no matter what it is you’re doin.’ For real though, if you’ve got ears & you’re listening – how could you NOT be impressed with this performance? Musically, it’s smooth & controlled-chaos is pure thrashing brilliance, and vocally, you’re getting one of the most fired-up versions of Rob on “I Won’t Mind My Own Mind’s Mind” that you’ll find on this record. The trombone from Ty Staehlin serve this song extremely well…all around this sounds like CHX Collective as amped-up and into it as you could hope to experience, immersed in this Alt-Punk/Ska combination & blend of sound that works extraordinarily in favor of securing another single-worthy cut.
“An Answer In All The Wrong Places” probably has just about as much in common with bands like The Strokes & Weezer as it might with anything in the dedicated Punk genre…Rob’s written an impressive crossover tune here. If you’re familiar with your Canadian bands out there as well, you’ll find similarities to bands like The Doughboys or The Killjoys as well throughout a lot of the material & vibes on this record…those would be fair comparisons to make too – great melody-driven energy & vocals in every one of these bands, CHX Collective certainly included in that list. I know I’ve already had high praise for this record…yet…here we are again, with another potential favorite from Keep Me In Orbit Today – “An Answer In All The Wrong Places” stands out as a real gem in this set of stunning Punk tunes. We’re not talking the single here, we’re talking that kind of reliable song that always keeps you coming back to an album to listen…it’s still accessible for sure, just a different kind of accessibility – you following me? Rob’s ability to add sincerity into the melodies he writes & sings is a constant asset in any project he’s been involved in – songs like “An Answer In All The Wrong Places” reveal the strength he can create in a more intimate moment. Like I said, I can totally get that it’s maybe not quite got the all-out appeal or hit-factor that perhaps the first three cuts on the record might contain, but it’s certainly no less worth your time in listening. For me personally, this was one of the tracks that kept me continually coming back to listen…Rob’s still giving it the business and ripping it up with energy on the microphone, but if you’re really listening close, you’ll find equal-parts of heart in there too, inside a really well-written tune.
Readers familiar with our pages know that if I’ve got something to say, I’ll say it. If there was something amiss, strange, or out of line, of course I’d make mention of it. Sometimes things just go completely right…and when you hear transitions like you’ll hear from “An Answer In All The Wrong Places” into “I Want It Back,” it’ll have you realizing just how much attention to detail is being paid on this record. Facts are facts friends – the songwriting is bulletproof and the execution the same – can’t ask for more. I like that there have been various approaches to the mix & sound throughout Keep Me In Orbit Today. CHX Collective will make you wonder if this might be what something like BTO would be like if they completely punked-up the wound & existed today…Rob’s pushing the top-side of his vocals to the max throughout “I Want It Back” and gettin’ close to that “Takin’ Care Of Business”-like tone in his voice. That being said…it’s still the CHX Collective sound at work here, executed with the passion & punch your ears are looking for, and while those vocals might be a demanding challenge for Rob to sing, he does indeed pull this off & hit the mark he’s looking for. Many people out there still confuse Punk for having to be reckless and ill-produced…which of course doesn’t have to be the case at all; that’s a branch of a genre that spans out to be quite a big tree – what you’ll hear from CHX Collective has the right amount of grit when it’s called for, the right amount of clarity when you want it, and rock-solid ideas at all times.
Songs like “Smalltalk Subtext” highlight how freakin’ quick the dude can be when he wants to kick up the energy. Combined with the relentless pound from the drums provided by Pat Holland (you know, recorded at good ol’ Dennis Tynan’s house four blocks over from Rob’s) – these guys SLAY the three minutes on “Smalltalk Subtext” and essentially increase the madness, mayhem, and melody at every possible opportunity that comes their way. Another killer chorus that deserves a shout-out here on this cut, which is like…I mean it’s ultimately a short fraction of this song, but seriously effective, memorable, even sing-along worthy for sure. Hooks are all over this track though…which of course by now on our way into the halfway mark of the record, seems to have become the trend here…nice work CHX Collective, nice work. For real, this is another highlight example of just how much passion, emotion, sincerity, & true-power Rob’s melodies can flex; the execution on “Smalltalk Subtext” and its gripping movement, chops, stops, starts, distortion, break-downs & build-ups…it’s all 100% Punkified perfection.
Again…credit to Pat on the drums, the dude is rock-steady and endlessly busy in keeping up with the lightning pace added into tunes like “Heliocentric.” I dig how this tune seems to reach for a bit more; it’s one thing to find those vocal melodies that naturally match the music, it’s another to find something like this that complements it & is also willing to take its own direction. So when you’re listening to Rob sing this particular tune on the record, you can hear that noticeable difference here, he’s not as joined at the hip to the music & roaming a bit more freely to find a unique vocal part to fit this song, which I think he’s done an exceptional job of when it comes right down to it – mission accomplished. Tracks like “Heliocentric” really stand out to me though, the ‘me’ as a music-reviewer just as much as the ‘me’ as an enthusiastic fan of what Rob creates. While I can appreciate that a song like “Heliocentric” will take longer for the audience to chew on that some of the others in the first-half of the record by comparison, it’s the sheer strength of what’s coming off the bench to support the all-stars of this album that’s seriously impressive. Anything you might consider to be a B-side of Rob’s work would likely be an A-side on any other record out there in the genre…complex ideas & emotions on display like you’ll find on “Heliocentric” aren’t going to catch on as quickly as a sing-along chorus is going to, that’s just facts & the way the mainstream masses out there work…but thankfully, that’s not the reason we all make music. Rob understands the value of straight-up solid material and a consistency in the quality you’ll hear from song to song, experience to experience, no matter the direction he steers the ship in.
When the mix of this Indie/Pop/Punk combination he’s got goin’ on is right at its peak, it’s pure fuckin magic people…that applies to his music from the past, that applies to now. When I hear the sound of a song like “Unanchored” I just want to tap it directly into my veins…that’s sonic GOLD right there people. Of course the comparison I’m gonna make is nowhere near the sound of what CHX Collective is like at all – but if we’re talking MEATINESS in production, you could find a track like “Unanchored” right up there with a record like Siamese Dream with the incredible charisma the guitars from Dave Klod possess & the low-end punch the bass from Rob has. Still by far one of my favorite mixes on any album to this day…so for “Unanchored” to remind me of that sound at all is a very solid checkmark in the win column for CHX Collective over on this side of the screen, believe that. Like I was saying earlier, the man has explored a ton of avenues down through the different streets of sound that Punk has to offer, pushing out to the fringes like he will on “Unanchored.” Each time that happens, Rob’s putting himself in a crossover position to gain the attention of an even wider audience of potential fans…and the domino effect will occur for sure, you’ll likely go from one project he’s in to the next, just like I did. And just like I did, you’ll likely discover each have their own separate value, but a consistency that always resides atop the surface that proves he’s been a dedicated musician every single step of the way.
Even on a song like “Blah Blah Blah” – this dude has put in such a significant amount of effort that it’d be impossible not to hear it. Inside the loosest vibe he’s created, CHX Collective dives into pure Punk attitude and rampaging fun at all times on this cut; it’s another that I felt like, naturally, I SHOULD be resisting this harder than I was capable of. I mean, how COULD you? You can’t. “Blah Blah Blah” is ultimately just way, way, way too much fun to not get sucked right into the gravitational pull & starlight of this pretty audio-party tune. The odd-effect of this song and how much it’ll grab ya is what’s probably most remarkable…like, I dig the verses (especially the personality you’ll find in the second one), and the pre-chorus has a bold melody-line that works really well too…and like…I was still convinced that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t gonna be quite enough to fully stand-out in comparison to the rest, despite how good everything was sounding. So I’m sure you hear me when I say that, for a song with a chorus that is literally a chant & sing-along of “Blah Blah Blah,” for THAT moment to take this cut up to that memorable next-level it needed…is actually seriously damn funny and seriously damn Punk at its core. The sound is likely more ‘friendly’ than what most people typically know Punk to be, but this is the attitude at its finest right here in the chorus…you can’t mistake that for anything else.
The opening of “KT” is easily one of my favorite beginnings to any track on this record. When it comes to this album, I’d imagine this song is going to stand-out for several reasons, it’s that different from the rest. First of all, we’re switching up to a stunning piano-led groove & melody on “KT” – which alone, makes this tune immediately catch the ears…but even the writing has a slightly different flavor & twist here too. I wouldn’t go as far as to accuse the man of writing something specifically with a hit-single in mind, but you can hear a more traditional adherence & approach to songwriting & structure on “KT.” Personally, I dig it & I’d fully encourage Rob to continue exploring these sounds on the fringe of his Punk-inclinations. The powerful execution comes shining through the surge of energy into the chorus – massive hooks and a captivating flow to the rhythm of the vocals & melody Rob’s providin’ us all with. Bottom line is, he’s added a serious amount of crossover potential throughout the twists & turns of this entire record that’ll not only entice in a whole new range of listeners, but really satisfy his existing fans at the same time. At least I’d imagine it would…dude has always been able to test the waters & challenge himself to create new ideas, atmospheres, vibes, and experiences in music – I’d imagine he’s got a supportive fan-base that’s continually growing and always willing to go down the next rabbit hole with him, wherever it may lead. Ending “KT” with a down-home moment like his own “Patience” by G&R or a Blind Melon tune coming from a boombox off the front porch down the road, CHX Collective deconstruct the song & strip it all down, giving it a fully conclusive ending to another really tight tune.
Right at the end of the official lineup of songs on Keep Me In Orbit Today, you’ll find the smoother-than-smooth roll to victory through the rhythm & groove supplied by the Punk/Pop gem “Never Figure It Out.” Lest we forget that it’s the bass that Rob flexes his most intense connection to – this final cut lets the instrument have its true moment in the spotlight, leading the way alongside Rob’s vocals and Pat’s ever-reliable, steady beats of perfection on the drums. “Never Figure It Out” is probably one of the mort quaint, pleasant, and chilled out songs you’ll find in any of the projects throughout Rob’s catalog of tunes out there…and like every other aspect & dimension he’s experimented with along the way, he’s found another one that suits him extremely well here. If you’ve ever listened to records like Mike Doughty’s Haughty Melodic or Golden Delicious, etc. etc. (dude’s amazing) – you’ll probably get the similarities I hear between what CHX Collective brings to the Alt-Pop-inspired sounds of “Never Figure It Out” at the end of this album. Keyboards that come in to play just prior to the final run-through of the hooks for the finale was a nice touch, but all-around, “Never Figure It Out” is tight & right from beginning to end. Freakin’ FANTASTIC energy on this song at all times and as smooth of a ride as it gets from the rich bass-tones, harmonies, hand-claps, & drum beats, to the brilliant vocal melody on the mic.
Bonus cuts! You know you want’em – CHX Collective is here to supply. Do I need the cover of “Money For Nothin’ (CHX For Free)” personally? Nah. BUT – I do get it. I was just never a massive fan of the original to begin with I suppose…I don’t mind some of the other stuff from Dire Straits, but I dunno. Here’s the facts though, CHX Collective absolutely savages, pillages, and storms to a raging Punk victory in the covering of this cut – I mean, there’s zero-doubt that they’ve retained what’s made the song a massive & memorable hit to begin with and adapted it brilliantly into the Punk universe. When you do it right like CHX Collective has done here, fans of the original will dig it, people that don’t already know the song will likely dig it for even more reasons, being exposed to those hooks for the first time etc. – I certainly wouldn’t take any points away for execution or performance here, “Money For Nothin’ (CHX For Free)” – all that’s in-line and as electrifying as ever on this first of two bonus tunes. Would I potentially say that Rob’s gone all-in on a song that happens to have a title that he could put a clever Punk-twist on for the current project he’s in? I might. I might just say that. 😉 Results are still good.
I’m more partial to the cover of NOFX’s “Whoops I OD’d (Fest 2017 While You Were Sleeping)” – which brings out a bit more of that Down Solo vibe we’ve heard in Rob’s past music to the end of this new album. The isolated recording and sound of this last song really hit the mark for me and created a perfect final moment on Keep Me In Orbit Today; it reminded me a lot of the atmosphere some of you might remember from the second-version of “The Taking Of David” by Rhymes With Orange on their album Trapped In The Machine…which was recorded in the bathroom, complete with toilet-flush at the end. Only to signify the end of the song, not the quality – let’s be clear; it brought out a uniqueness & sincerity to that tune that was unlike the original and completely expanded on the strength of the melody, all the while stripping back the sound to the barest of bones. Wherever Rob is in recording this particular song doesn’t sound like the same place as where he’s recorded the rest…which aside from kicking ass in the mellowest of ways on his cover of “Whoops I OD’d (Fest 2017 While You Were Sleeping),” makes for another highly satisfying twist for the ears before the album is officially over.
Dunno what else I can tell ya folks – CHX Collective has got the goods for your stereos & speakers this summer and Rob’s got another killer project on the go. He’s clearly a man of music and always working on something…kinda comforting really; not only has he already made a ton of highly memorable material, it’s more than safe to say he’ll be doing that for years & years still to come. Cheers to that.
Find out more about CHX Collective at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/chxcollective